Of its 32 years in the Indian confectionery market, Coffy Bite spent the last 10 years without a national marketing campaign. Over the last three decades, the brand has changed hands and has had its own highs and lows.
After a decade sans advertising, confectionery marketer Lotte India just launched an ad campaign for its iconic toffee brand Coffy Bite. The campaign, a mix of four films, resuscitates the brand's original 'coffee vs toffee’ argument and aims to evoke nostalgia with its new 'coffier vs toffier' proposition. Ironically, the old proposition, which was created in the early '90s, was dropped and was replaced by various other taglines over the years. The new ads are built around modern day topics such as social media, binge-watching and e-commerce. The last national campaign was launched in September 2009.
Coffy Bite was launched in 1987 by Parry Confectionery, then owned by Chennai-based conglomerate Muruggappa group. Parry was taken over by South Korean confectionery company Lotte Confectioneries (part of Lotte Corporation) in 2004. However, the brand had taken a backseat since 2009.
Business conglomerate Lotte Corporation was started in the mid-'90s in Tokyo by Korean businessman Shin Kyuk-ho. It later expanded to South Korea with the establishment of Lotte Confectionery in Seoul in 1967. The corporation today consists of over 90 businesses across diverse industries like candy manufacturing, beverages, hotels, fast-food, retail, financial services, electronics, IT, construction, publishing, among others.
In a conversation with afaqs!, Venkatesh Parthasarathy, marketing head, Lotte India, reveals that the brand has been through several highs and lows and has survived the test of time. And while the brand was available in the market, no marketing efforts were made.
Explaining why Coffy Bite hid in the background, Parthasarathy says, “Apart from the confectionery business (acquired from Parry) we have a cake brand called Lotte Choco Pie from the Korean stable. The larger agenda was to build Choco Pie. The bulk of the organisation's investments and attention were on Choco Pie and a significant amount of CapEx (capital expenditure) was directed towards setting up a factory in 2010. Now Choco Pie is nearing Rs 300 crore in sales and we have also managed to come out of the red in the last two years.”
Parthasarathy divulges that Coffy Bite did “extremely well” from 1990 to 1996 while selling at the 30p price point. In 1996, Perfetti's Alpenliebe (caramel candy) entered India and Coffy Bite's price was increased to 50p. Post 1997, the hike in the excise duty and Parry’s bad investments in a couple of products, resulted in the company running into deep red. Around the year 2000, Murugappa Group wanted to sell Parry and initiated cost-cutting activities.
Parthasarathy explains that it was a time when the market was expanding rapidly with MNCs such as HUL, ITC and Mondelez investing in the business, and Parry was busy cutting costs.
"..the confectionery (non-gum) market is fragmented. It isn't a monopoly where the leader makes a change and the rest follow.” —Venkatesh Parthasarathy.
Speaking of difficult times, Parthasarathy discloses, “Post the oil crisis in 2008, packaging/raw material prices went up and the market was looking at ways to sustain the 50p price point that dominated until 2008-2009. We wondered who would go for the Rs 1 price point first as the confectionery (non-gum) market is fragmented. It isn't a monopoly where the leader makes a change and the rest follow. The largest player, Perfetti Van Melle India (PVMI), holds a little over 15 per cent share.”
“Around 2012, there was a significant amount of advertising by companies such as Mondelez and PVMI while moving to the Rs 1 price point. Among major innovations from the phase were Kopiko (coffee candy) and DS Group's Pulse (masala-filled candy), which entered the market at a higher price. This advanced the market to the Rs 1 price point,” he explains.
Today, while the affordability problem has resolved, Lotte is stressing on availability and awareness. As Parthasarathy justifies, rejuvenating Coffy Bite was on the cards but the team was split between reintroducing the “argument” and creating a new proposition. “We initiated a brand architecture study in December 2018 to study brand relevance in the Lotte India portfolio, which includes brands such as Coffy Bite, Caramilk, Lacto King and Lotte Eclairs, apart from BooProo and Spout gums. It was clear that to rebuild the confectionery business, the starting point should be Coffy Bite. During consumer interactions, the ‘coffee-toffee' argument popped up repeatedly as it is still well entrenched in consumers’ memory,” he says.
Between 2009 and 2019, the brand witnessed packaging changes, new SKUs, format additions and also the introduction of an 'eclairs' format to meet demand in Kerala.
Lotte India now aims to reclaim a position in the close to Rs 10,000 crore Indian confectionery market. Apart from the overall competition with others in the space, Coffy Bite is in for a head-on collision with Indonesian origin coffee based candy, Kopiko, its only major rival in a duopoly like situation.
The South (TN, AP, Karnataka) accounts for 35 per cent of the brand's revenue followed by North (mainly UP, Punjab) at 32 per cent, East (Bihar, Jharkhand) at 17 per cent and West at 16 per cent (mainly Maharashtra). Coffy Bite is limited to India with minor distribution to the Middle East, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Speaking of challenges, Parthasarathy says, “Confectionery is a low barrier-to-entry market, the technology isn't patented and can be easily replicated. Apart from PVMI almost all organised players outsource production to smaller sub-contractors who are now rolling out their renditions of popular brands. Prayagh Nutri Products, which produced confectionery for ITC, set up its own business. Smaller brands can rapidly deliver higher margins with newer variants, flavours and innovations as they do not have scale. This has been a matter of worry for all players. To solve this, you either provide a higher profit margin or invest in brand building. We chose the latter.”
Advertising over the years:
When the brand was launched in May 1987, it only highlighted the Parry's tagline, 'King of sweets'. Coffy Bite was given a tagline in the early 90s when it became clear that the product was being consumed by adults, more than kids and deserves more attention. The ad 'Battle of Parrysburgh' cemented the brand's 'coffee vs toffee’ argument. The commercial was crafted by (then creative directors) Sonia Bahl and Indu Balachandran at HTA (today's Wunderman Thompson).
In June 2007, the company released a new campaign giving the 'argument' a miss and introducing a new tagline, 'Bacchon ki coffee, badon ki toffee'. The campaign was launched under Ajay Motwani (then group product manager, Lotte India) backed by a JWT (also today's Wunderman Thompson) team led by Mythili Chandrasekar (then senior vice-president and executive planning director, JWT, Bangalore).
Coffy Bite resumed the 'argument' in 2009 with a new tagline (Let the arguments begin) in an ad featuring 'frogs'. The campaign was crafted by Rediffusion Y&R, Chennai led by Minkashi Achan (then chief creative officer, Rediffusion Y&R) and Kishore Karumbaiah, (then creative head, Rediffusion Y&R).
Skip to 2019, the 'argument' is reintroduced in the form of 'coffier vs toffier'. The campaign targets consumers born in the '80s and '90s to rekindle the brand connect, which is also the reason behind cutting out kids from the films. “Once the argument and 'coffee-toffee' proposition is rebuilt, we can take it forward. This would pave the way for further communication or other products that can be introduced under the Coffy Bite brand,” says Parthasarathy.
The ads are being aired on TV in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka while digital is being used to target Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru. The brand has plans to explore domains such as influencer marketing, multiple SKUs and building modern trade presence in the coming year.
With the ‘coffier vs toffier' proposition, Parthasarathy reveals that the new toffee is softer and chewy unlike its previous hard nature. The colour has also been slightly lightened to remove the connotation of dark coffee. “The taste has remained the same,” he stresses.
Having partnered with the likes of HTA/JWT and Rediffusion Y&R in the past, Lotte got the new campaign done by 1pointsize, a smaller agency based in Chennai. We asked why?
1pointsize was appointed for the campaign without a pitch. “The founders of the agency (Sharad Haksar and Anantha Narayan) also double up as brand consultants. Instead of measuring the client in terms of the 'bill', they worked like partners by investing their time and attention. I was satisfied with the design work they had done on another Lotte brand. I knew that they were not beating around the bush,” Parthasarathy signs off.
So, does it click?
Rohit Malkani, national creative director, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi says, “It’s a brand asset and idea that the brand was built on. The obvious con is that that you will always be compared to the original. Lovers of the original (like me) will pin you like an X-ray report to a lightbox and dissect you! Secondly, while the original might have been a huge success, everything needs to be judged in its context and time, especially the brand of humour.”
Malkani continues, “The pros are the fact that nostalgia is always a welcome emotion. People will rally around the familiar, things that remind them of their childhood days and Doordarshan. Returning to a brand idea that worked sometimes helps to revisit its values and strengthen its core.”
Vishal Mittal, group creative director, Dentsu One, agrees with Malkani’s thought saying, “If the campaign is really memorable, people will remember it. A certain nostalgia is attached to it. Which compels them to try it again. It’s like, if it has worked in the past, it will work now too. Most of the commercials in the campaign are targetted at millennials. However, I am not sure whether they remember the old Coffy Bite ‘Coffee! Toffee!’ argument campaign.”
“Talking about the effort,” Mittal goes on, “I found it convoluted and rather lame. ‘Sab kuch badal raha hai’ but Coffy Bite hasn't changed would have made more sense. Because the way ‘Sab kuch badal raha hai’ has been delivered has sadness, disappointment and nostalgia attached to it. But when it comes to Coffy Bite changing, tone suddenly gets euphoric, which makes it convoluted.”